Colombia is the second most biodiverse country of the entire world, and it’s rich in natural resources such as minerals, metals, fossil fuels, fresh water, forests, jungles and animal diversity. The national economy is based on the exploitation of these natural resources and vast amounts of rural and indigenous communities directly depend on these.
Despite the aforementioned, the economic and social inequality of the country is astonishingly high and raises questions on the type of policies that have contributed to this problem as well as the effects that these have on the armed conflict and the preservation of the natural environment.
The following are three key factors contained in the Peace Agreements that contribute to improvements in all these areas:
1. The recognition, support and establishment of Peasant Reserve Zones
The dynamics of the conflict have meant that many of the displaced have occupied and generated new rural settlements, thus contributing to the deforestation and unorganized usage of land. The agreements contemplate 10 million hectares to be adequately distributed to landless peasants and small and medium agricultural producers, many of these can be in Peasant Reserve Zones, which are forms of community organization recognized by the legal system and in which an adequate distribution and usage of land is generated.
As well, these empower the communities to have a direct influence on decision making regarding natural resource exploitation and how it will be done in a social, economic and environment-friendly manner. This is important due to the fact that the forms and methods commonly used for natural resource extraction have shown to have had negative effects on the economic, social and environmental life of the communities, especially with the fracking technique.
The previous may sound paradoxical but in fact is a common situation in those areas richest in natural resources, this is why many communities have organized and protested against the entrance of extractive companies. The contribution to resolving this problem is by enabling the communities to have a direct voice in decision-making stances and strengthening these institutional stances and their formalization.
2. Delimitation of the forest reserve and agricultural frontier
The Comprehensive Rural Reform contemplates in many of its subsections the need for rural development based on environmental sustainability and the strengthening of the institutional framework in order to generate plans and public policies in perspective of rural social equality and a better usage of the land.
With the delimitation of the forest reserve and the closing of the agricultural frontier, clear parameters are established in order to protect areas of special environmental interest. The lack of the previously mentioned has contributed to the continuous deforestation and lack of regulation to the extraction of natural resources, which has resulted in enormous damage to the ecosystems.
3. Crops of illicit use
The cycle of forced displacement and the generalized neglect of the State towards rural communities has meant that many of these located in remote areas don’t count with the sufficient infrastructure or basic institutional framework in order to be able to develop sustainable and legal economic subsistence, resulting in the growth of illicit crops as means of basic economic survival.
The paradigm that has been used for decades regarding this problem has been that of criminalization of the weakest links of the chain (the peasants) and the use of aerial spraying and forced eradication, this paradigm does not attack the structural causes of the problem and has only contributed to making it more complex and generated environmental and health damage, since the chemicals used in aerial spraying are extremely harmful to both humans and nature.
At the same time, by not attacking the structural causes, more deforestation occurs and more illicitly used crops are generated since the economic and social aspects are not taken into account.
The shift of paradigm contemplated in the agreements aim at the voluntary substitution of these illicit crops by providing living alternatives to peasants, with health care, education, technical assistance, soft loans and tertiary roads for peasants to be able to grow legal crops. With the voluntary substitution programs the peasants should be able to change quickly and voluntarily to other crops that should provide them welfare and well-being.
Likewise, the reforestation is contemplated as an essential part of the necessary retribution to the environmental damage that has been caused during all these years of proliferation of illicitly used crops and aerial spraying.
In defense of the agreements
The implementation of the Final Peace agreement was delayed, as it wasn't approved in the national plebiscite that took place on October 2, with a very slight difference of approximately 60.000 votes out of over 13 million voters; however, the peace process is not over yet and all parties, including the most notorious representatives of the NO-camp, have expressed willingness to continue working towards a positive outcome.
It is important for the national and international community to take an active role in the upcoming events in defense of the core elements and spirit of the reached agreements as they aim to benefit the vast majority of Colombians, the environment and social development.
The FARC-EP has tirelessly worked in pro of improving the living conditions of the majorities and has always been imbued in the life of the rural Colombia, the forgotten Colombia, the neglected and abandoned communities that have been subject to State and paramilitary violence. This is the reason why the peace agreements constitute a series of social and political conquests that set the bases for all the marginalized to have a voice in national politics and to generate the necessary reforms to improve the living conditions of millions of Colombians.